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Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 8/7/2013

No clear winner, but a few sparks

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
BLADE COLUMNIST

Democracy is not an epic poem. It’s more like a comic opera followed by KP duty.

Elections are performances, they are organizational problems, and sometimes they are about issues and ideas.

The first mayoral debate, actually a forum, was held last night at Stephenson-Roberts Hall at the Indiana Missionary Baptist church, sponsored by the NAACP. It was not a seminar, and, mostly, that was a good thing.

Write-in candidate Don Gozdowski quoted from the song “Blue Suede Shoes” in his closing statement. He also told us he walks with God.

Opal Covey not only walks with God, He talks to her. She says God told her Toledo should be a vacation spot and that, as mayor, she should build an amusement park in Promenade Park. But Ms. Covey also gave one of the best answers on stand-your-ground laws, which all but one of the candidates opposed. She said she grieves for the lost youth of America and that truth should matter more in the courts.

Alan Cox and Michael Konwinski seemed to be the lost adults of the night. They were not able to engage the vital political issues that were raised: abandoned homes; neighborhoods, crime, gangs, economic development, the incarceration rate for young blacks, sink holes, the credibility of the police force, and the development of the Marina District. Yes, good questions were asked, real issues raised. It was a solid forum, with a large and attentive audience.

The big loser of the night was D. Michael Collins, who almost fell into the second tier. Mr. Collins is an able guy who could actually do the job of mayor. But he is a poor candidate. He told this crowd he did not believe there is racial profiling in Toledo. You could hear a pin drop in the room. He was a different guy in his closing statement, but only to attack the mayor with ferocity. It didn’t fit with the rest of the night — his or ours.

The winners were incumbent mayor Michael Bell, County Auditor Anita Lopez, and City Councilman Joe McNamara — but none was consistently good. Ms. Lopez was impressive — hitting hard and not backing down. Was she saying not to seek investment from the Chinese and other foreign investors in part because they are foreign? Darn right. And she brought the crowd with her. She may mangle her facts at times, but she is a formidable candidate — feisty, charismatic, and demagogic.

For most of the night, Mayor Bell seemed detached and not fully present, but he came alive in his closing like a sleeping lion. When he’s on, he is commanding.

Joe McNamara won on points, certainly. He is the most substantive. If you read a transcript, he would clearly be the winner. Yet he got less applause than the other two, in part because they brought their troops with them. But organization matters even more than substance in politics.

For a while during the debate, one wondered if Mayor Bell really wants to be mayor again and whether the fall campaign conceivably could come down to Ms. Lopez and Mr. McNamara. But, oddly, Ms. Lopez faded in her closing and Mr. Bell proved he can turn on the juice like a fullback when he needs to.

Do debates matter? At this level, with these issues, yes. The race is narrowing. No more time for charming distractions. This is serious business now. After the primary, there can only be two.

Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade. Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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